Monday, August 06, 2012

Bed and Bath in the 1920's and 30's.

Bed and Bath in the 1920's and 30's. My family keeps asking me to write more about life when I was a child. I would like to hear from BLOGGERS of my generation and about their memories of life in the 1920's and thirties. My father died when I was nine, and so I was raised by a widowed mother. My memories may not be typical of everyone in the Southern United States.

I never had a room of my own. Never even a bed of my own. After Papa died, we moved to a smaller house. I slept in the bed with my mother. There was also a single bed in this bedroom and my sister, Mary, slept there. My brothers, Charlie, Tom, and Jack, slept in a room across the hall. My youngest brother, Jack, was five years older than I. My sister, Mary, was ten years older; so I was almost raised alone as far as sibling playmates was concerned. (The picture to the left is Ruth Baird Shaw (about age 8) with her nephew Lavay McCullough, (age 2) who contacted Polio as an infant.)

Although we were poor, it was not "poverty" in the sense of poverty today. It is said that "poor" was proud (not un-Christian pride, of course) in the South after Sherman's successful march through Georgia and all the way to the sea. It left much of the South in ashes and ended the War between the States. At least "poor" meant you were honest and not a "carpetbagger" or a "bootlegger."

In a world of class, as well as race divisionisms, my mother told me, "You came from good stock." She was pleased to then tell about her grandmother who traced her lineage back to the Revolution and her maternal grandfather who had been a hard working and prosperous (for the times) land owner and a Methodist preacher.

And we, as well as nearly every Southern family had a story of some brave woman or child facing the soldiers from the North, seemingly bent on burning the South to the ground and thus ending the horrible war. In November, 1997, I read a part of our family history when a woman ancestor faced Northern soldiers, who were about to torch their house. She let the Yankee soldiers know that her husband was also a member of the Masonic lodge. Apparently this was a common ground respected by both North and South .

In our small town, most of the people worked for Bibb Manufacturing Company. Most were hard working and glad to have a job of any kind. It took all the members of the family working to have enough income to survive. They lived on their meager incomes and helped one another in times of emergency. Almost everyone we knew had about the same income and opportunities. If someone was out of work or sick, the neighbors collected money for them or made up a "pantry shower." There was no sick leave nor other such benefits and none expected.

My mother was hardworking and resourseful, She knew how to "stretch a dollar" so we always seemed to have plenty to eat and to share with neighbors and most of what we needed. I do remember that on many occasions Mama was instrumental in collecting food supplies (pantry showers) for neighbors who had to be out of work because of sickness or other problems. Mama also lent money (without interest) to neighbors between paydays.

I remember that there was one man in the neighborhood who would make loans with interest to his less fortunate neighbors. This was considered unneighborly and un-Christian.

The salary for a full week's work was $9.90 for some and $10.80 for other jobs. I remember people jokingly saying, "If you can't make $10.80, $9.90 will do." We did "make do." To put this in focus. The overseers in the Cotton factories were paid about $100. weekly. The overseers and other mill officials were given bigger and better houses to rent on larger lots in their own part fo town. It is difficult for my grandchildren and the younger generation to understand but the word "egalitarian" was yet to be added to our vocalulary. But we were looking forward!

In the bedroom where I slept with my mother and sister, there were a couple of rocking chairs and some "straight" chairs because this was also a sitting room. The parlor or "front room" was across the hall in our house before my mother converted it into a bedroom to accommodate "boarders". This is another story.
Before going to bed, we sat around the heater at the "fireplace" and talked, or in my case, listened. I was a painfully shy child. If one decided to go to bed, it was no problem. One just went over in a corner or behind a door, undressed and put on night clothes. I remember warm flannel gowns.Today we remind our children to go to the bathroom before going to bed. In those days a "slop jar" was brought into the bedroom, and the children were reminded to"go to the slop jar before you go to bed."

Sometimes this vessel was called a "chamber pot" or just a "chamber." It was not my regular job, as I remember, but I was often told to "bring in the slop jar" or sometimes "go bring the chamber in." My mother usually did the more unpleasant job of taking it out, emptying it in the commode which was in a bathroom off the back porch, and washing it out.

The bathroom had a large footed bathtub and a commode. The "out house" in our community was before my time. However, this indoor plumbing had been added to one end of the back porch after the house was built (this smaller house on 45 Hazel Street being one of the older ones we moved into after my father's death).

At one point a gas heater was put in the bathroom, but that may have been in my later childhood. I do remember that sometimes, in cold weather, we brought a large
wash tub or a smaller "foot tub" into the warm kitchen or bedroom to take a bath. The bathroom was not as well sealed as the other rooms, so it was not suitable for bathing in very cold weather. We sometimes took sponge baths. This involved bringing a large “washpan” of warm water with cloth, soap, and towel into some private corner of a room. Every part of the body was thoroughly washed and rinsed but not all at the same time. Mama believed "cleanliness was next to Godliness."

My earliest memory of bedding were sheets that were made at home with seams down the middle. I think that textile looms that would weave cloth 54 or 60 inches wide were developed much later. I remember a few straw mattresses. These were homemade mattresses filled with straw to put on beds. I remember such a mattress on a small odd-sized bed in one of the rooms. Probably there were no mattresses that size on the market. The other mattresses were factory-made, cotton-filled mattresses.

We were fortunate to also have feather bed mattresses to put on top of all the cotton mattresses. Mama was resourceful. Feather mattresses were made at home. One would buy pillow ticking cloth (pillows were made at home also), sew it the length and width of the bed and fill it with feathers. On a cold winter night it was good to sink down in a bed of feathers and under the weigh of numerous handmade and home-quilted quilts. In the 1930's we called them "feather beds" and put them on top of the cotton mattresses. This added to the bed-making time every morning. One had to fluff up the feathers and smooth it out, often turning it over, and frequently taking it out in the sun to“air the bed out."

When innerspring mattresses were added to the market, most people were glad to retire the feather bed to history.

Homemade quilts? We had large stacks of them, home-pieced and home-quilted by Mama and the women in the neighborhood. In cold weather one was weighted down under warm quilts. In summer, when company came, quilts were folded on the floor to make mattresses for the children and sometimes for adults to sleep on after all the beds were filled.

We children loved these temporary beds. To make the quilts, quilting frames were hung from the four corners of the ceiling of our bedroom and drawn up at night. I have slept many nights with an unfinished quilt suspended above. Neighbors would come to visit and help with the quilting. Any unoccupied house in the village was often put into service for quilting bees. The quilting frames were hung from the ceiling, and six to eight women would take a chair and sit on all sides of the quilt, making fine stitches in a quilt pattern that one of them had drawn.

There was much talk and laughter as these women visited while working on a quilt. The younger children played at their feet, and the older children were in and out of the house.The advantage of the empty room was that the quilt would not have to be lifted up at night and walked around in the daytime. In the evenings Mama would cut and sew various patterns for future quilting. The children would play around and sometimes be allowed to make a few stitches and were complimented if they could manage small stitches. If the stitches were too long, the mother would remove the stitches, often after the child left the room. Everyone took pride in fingers nimble enough to make practically invisible stitches.

I was allowed to make a few stitches occasionally but was not often invited to quilt, so I assume my stitches were far from invisible.

52 comments:

Joan said...

Very interesting! You have a highly readable writing style.

louise said...

Your writing is very interesting and it does remind me some of my old time stories in my family. My grandmother raised 13 (yes 13) children without a husband. My grandfather died when my mother was 8, they had it rough but they were a true family and they stuck together and got through it. My fathers parents family had 3 children in it and his father worked on the railroad and his mother was a seamstress, so they did not have it as hard as my mom's family had it. I will tell you some of the antics that I heard growing up with the families before WWII.
What wonderful stories you tell... thank you for sharing.
Lou

Jane said...

This was so wonderful to read. Whatever happened to Grandmother's quilts? What a treasure that would be. Keep writing, the stories are very heartwarming.

Carol said...

Somehow you sneaked in this post and I didn't see it until this morning! I love it! Keep telling these stories!

utenzi said...

I was born in 1961, Ruth, so hearing about what life was like pre-WW2 is really fascinating. 3 of my grandparents died before I was 10 so I never really heard much about those times outside of television since my parents were born in the early 1940s. Very interesting and well written.

Carol said...

I loved reading this again. Don't stop writing. It's fascinating.

Melanie said...

Beautiful writing!

I have a special prayer request over at my blog. I would appreciate it if you would stop by and let me know that you will be helping me pray.

Questing Parson said...

Wow! They were right. You should write about this. I'll be looking for the next chapter. I'm emailing my great aunt now with your URL. She'll be most familiar with what you write.

Sophie said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I always am fascinated by these kinds of stories; it is amazing how much times have changed, isn't it?
God bless you!

ilovetodab said...

How do you find modern airsprung mattresses compared to the feather ones from your childhood? I reckon that being (probably) handmade the ones in the past will have been more personal and comfortable than the modern ones on our modern beds.

Anonymous said...

I love these stories. I imagine that you were much comfort to your Mother, after your Father died. Keep on writing! Debi

Lyn said...

I haven't checked blogs in a couple of months. I sure did enjoy getting "caught up" with yours for a while this evening. I love reading the stories from your life!
Love you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Aunt Ruth for sharing your stories. I have so enjoyed reading them. They remind me of my younger days listening to Granddaddy's (Charlie) stories. Just like you, he was a great storyteller too. Susan

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Anonymous said...

I so enjoy your sharing of your memories. When I married in 1965, my grandmother's gift to me was a homemade feather bed and feather pillows. She hadn't made them in a long time, and they were probably the last she ever made.I used them for many, many years. They were so far superior to anything "modern". Thank you for reminding me of my precious Grandma.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Ruth,
I was born on December 29, 1956. There was still no bathroom in my grandmother's house. My Aunt Jean tried to get Mother to use the bed pan, but she was stubborn and wouldn't. She had to cross a plank across the "branch" to get to the outhouse. She fainted dead away and fell into the branch! They made women stay in the bed 10 days after a baby was born in those days. Now we know that, that is the wrong thing to do...

Immediately after this incident, Uncle Barnard added a bathroom on to Grandmother's house. It was tiny with a tub that was a little over three and half feet long and a little bitty apartment size toilet. The sink and mirror were outside the bathroom with the vanity and mirror in the hallway.

I didn't know that we were poor until I got married the first time at 17 and Uncle Barnard and Uncle Guice quit buying everything I needed. We were proud too, I guess.

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